It was meta decades before Wes Craven's Scream. It was a loving homage to the horror genre years before Joe Dante's Matinee. It featured monster-battling fanboy protagonists long before Fright Night, Popcorn or even Neon Maniacs. Hell, it even had a 13-year old Fred Dekker as a fan extra in a convention scene. And it's gone virtually unnoticed by everyone, including me - a horror fan, former Bay Area resident and one of the few people around old enough to have watched John Stanley on Creature Features back in the day.
For October, I decided to watch nothing but vampire movies all month long as an excuse to revisit some classic favorites, maybe find some obscure gems, and hopefully, reassure myself the sub-genre still had something to offer. Over two dozen movies in, after pulling a Bob Kelljan hat trick with Scream Blacula Scream and his two Count Yorga movies, and suffering through two incredibly amateurish pieces of homemade junk called Just the Vampire Hunter and Vampire of Quezon City, I was beginning to despair. Sure, I had revisited the great 1931 version of Dracula and discovered the sequel to Vampire Hunter D to be even better than the original, but had yet to be rewarded with that special kind of off-the-radar film often found in these sub-genre scavenger hunts. However, I soon stumbled upon a movie that, although not great, was nevertheless made with the love that can only come from a true fan of the horror genre.
1977's Nightmare in Blood captured my attention at the outset with what looked to be the climax of a Hammer film featuring a fight between a vampire hunter and his quarry. As the camera pulled back on the action and the shot switched to the inside of a movie theater, where the projectionist was then killed, I realized I was seeing one of the great, unsung meta moments in horror movie history. And if that wasn't self aware enough, one of the titles on the theater's marquee was the name of the film I was currently watching. Suck it, Craven. The film continued on from there to be an outright love letter, not only to the horror movie genre, but to horror comics and conventions as well. At a time when conventions were in their infancy, comic books were dime-a-piece disposable rags and people who loved horror films were considered weird or disturbed, Nightmare in Blood, was an unabashed, self-aware, prescient, mash note to the fans.
Directed by former Bay Area KTVU Creature Features host, John Stanley, Nightmare in Blood, wears its horror-loving heart on its sleeve, and although the references may seem obvious to even casual fans, it feels so good to see and hear them dropped throughout the entire film. From the wall to wall movie posters, to a horror comic history slideshow primer, to mentions of Price, Lee, Lugosi and Karloff, it never grows old or gets laid on too thick. There's a humorous undertone to the film, but it's all in the spirit of fun and entertainment which is ultimately the movie's message.
All in all, its a very flawed film, but its heart is in such the right place and it got there so long before anyone else, it's very difficult not to forgive the missteps and feel a tremendous amount of affection and respect for it.